Washington has given the green light to the formation of an occupation force of some 5,000 troops to be led by British forces. The first soldiers are set to take up their positions in Kabul December 22.
Gen. Thomas Franks, the head of the Central Command, has indicated that he would prefer to have this British-led force report directly to him. "We need unity of command," stated a U.S. official, elaborating on the general's position. "It has to be General Franks who is in charge. To have separate commands in Afghanistan would not be acceptable. We want to make sure that we have freedom of action, anywhere and everywhere."
The force will initially include some 2,000 to 3,000 British soldiers, as well as troops from France, Italy, Canada, Turkey, Bangladesh, and Jordan. The German government announced it is ready to send 1,000 troops to be part of this force. Looking ahead, UK defense secretary Geoffrey Hoon "suggested Britain might contribute 10,000 troops to a multinational force of up to 50,000," reported the London-based Financial Times.
Washington is making it clear that the U.S. Central Command will have ultimate authority and real control over this force, which will depend heavily on U.S. logistic support.
U.S. bases of operation
Aside from the force to be placed in Kabul, Washington is concentrating on establishing bases of operation connected to the country's airfields. A total of around 1,500 U.S. Marines are deployed at a desert airfield outside Kandahar, from which they patrol within 12 miles of the city, at the large airbase near Kabul, and at the airport near Mazar-i-Sharif. Special operations forces, CIA teams, and other military units are active elsewhere in the country, but press censorship by Washington is keeping reports out of the U.S. media.
The call for placing these troops in Afghanistan was officially sanctioned by a UN-sponsored conference in Bonn, Germany, where delegates from four Afghan factions met for nine days. The delegates gave the nod of approval to the appointment of Pashtun commander Hamid Karzai, a candidate favored by the U.S. government, as leader of the interim government. The new regime is set to take over December 22.
The pact calls for the withdrawal of the Northern Alliance forces from Kabul and other major cities. They are to be replaced by troops from the occupation force, which will begin operations around Kabul but, according to the agreement, could "be progressively expanded to other urban centers and other areas."
One week after signing this pact, Mohammad Fahim, Afghanistan's newly appointed defense minister, insisted that Northern Alliance troops will remain in Kabul and will not withdraw as the Bonn agreement obligates them to do.
Karzai, for his part, has given his full backing to Washington's military operations inside Afghanistan, and has urged the U.S. government to not "walk away," but to maintain a strong presence within the country. The new Afghan leader also pledged to disarm the Afghan people.
One indication of the influence of the U.S. government over the new Afghan officials is the response on December 6 by U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld to terms worked out by local militias for the surrender of Kandahar by Mullah Omar, the Taliban's central leader.
The original deal reported in the media would have allowed Omar to continue living in Kandahar under the protection of a local Pashtun leader. Rumsfeld made it known in no uncertain terms that this was unacceptable. "American officials," reported the New York Times, "signaled that any amnesty for senior Taliban leaders could end military cooperation and reconstruction aid for opposition groups, whose success depends on both. And they seemed confident that the final settlement would meet American goals."
Washington has been bombarding the Tora Bora area in the White Mountains in eastern Afghanistan, where an intricate system of caves, some of which lead into Pakistan, is located. "The places we're bombing, we're really bombing, but there are not as many of them now," a U.S. military officer told the New York Times. On December 9 U.S. warplanes dropped a 15,000 pound "Daisy Cutter" bomb on the area.
Further inroads into Central Asia
Following a visit to Uzbekistan, U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell secured agreement from the government there to open the Friendship Bridge, which provides a key land route into northern Afghanistan, for the first time since 1996. The bridge will make it much easier for Washington to reinforce and resupply U.S. forces operating on the ground in this area of the country.
During his one-day trip to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent, Powell assured President Islam Karimov, who is notorious for running an extremely repressive regime, that Washington's "interests in this country and region go far beyond the current crisis in Afghanistan." The U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division is now stationed at a strategic base in Uzbekistan.
Heeding the U.S. government's request, the parliament in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan overwhelmingly approved December 6 the opening up of its substantial air bases to U.S. military operations. U.S. military officials are most interested in the Manas air base, which can accommodate 30-40 aircraft of different types at any one time. According to Kyrgyz officials, the initial military force to be deployed in the country may also include contingents from France, Italy, Canada, Australia, and south Korea.
With some 30 to 40 ships in the Arabian Sea area, the U.S. Navy have been interdicting, and in some cases boarding and searching, vessels ranging from large ships to small boats in the area. On average about 40 boats are being challenged daily. British, French, Italian, Canadian, and Australian ships are assisting Washington in carrying out this operation.
U.S. military predominance over allies
Assessing the results of the U.S. war, the Financial Times noted December 9 that the "rapid collapse of the Taliban under withering American air power has emphasized a trend with profound ramifications far beyond Afghanistan: growing U.S. military predominance.... The gap between the military capabilities of the U.S. and the rest of the world is huge and is growing."
The article cites a study by Yale historian Paul Kennedy, who says the United States now accounts for 36 percent of all military spending around the world, and spends more than the next nine nations together. "This is the largest share of military expenditures around the globe in all of history," stated Kennedy. "You are talking about a Potemkin military alliance where the U.S. does 98 percent of the fighting, the British 2 percent and the Japanese are steaming around Mauritius."
But the paper also sounded a note of caution for those who envisage unlimited future success for Washington. "The U.S.-led victories of the last decade have been against forces that had already been weakened by years of war. It would be perilous to extrapolate from that and assume victories elsewhere will come so cheaply."
Among the nations cited at the top of the Pentagon's list for future attacks are Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. A delegation of U.S. military personnel "have secretly entered Somalia," reported the December 11 London-based Telegraph, in a move aimed at identifying future targets for U.S. bombing attacks in the next stage of President George Bush's so-called war against terrorism. Nine officers met with leaders of the Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA) in Baidoa in central Somalia and visited an airport and several former military barracks as well, reported the Financial Times.
The RRA is part of a wider Ethiopian-backed anti-government alliance called the Somali Restoration and Reconciliation Council. This group, which is backed by Hussein Aidid, charges the new government in Somalia with having "Islamist sympathies."
U.S. bombs kill
thousands of civilians
BY BRIAN WILLIAMS
According to an extensive study released December 10 by Marc Herold, professor of economics, international relations, and women's studies at the University of New Hampshire, thousands of civilians have been killed in Afghanistan by U.S. bombs. The report states that between October 7, the day the bombardment began, and December 6, "at least 3,767 Afghan civilians had died in U.S. bombing attacks," an average of 62 per day. The report noted "that 10 percent to 30 percent of the U.S. missiles and bombs dropped on Afghanistan did not explode, posing a lasting danger. Fourteen thousand unexploded cluster bomblets littered the fields, streets, and homes of Afghanistan by late November."
Included among the numerous instances cited in the report are: "November 10--the villages of Shah Aqa and a neighboring sidling, in the...Khakrez district, 70 kilometers [43 miles] northwest of Kandahar are bombed, resulting in over 300 civilian casualties"; "November 11--U.S. planes bombed a bus carrying fleeing refugees on the north road out of Kabul... 35 died"; and "November 18--carpet-bombing by B-52s of frontline village near Khanabad province of Kunduz, kills at least 150 civilians."
In addition, after surrendering to Northern Alliance forces in the northern Afghanistan city of Kunduz, dozens and possibly hundreds of Taliban soldiers were asphyxiated while being transported to prison sites in shipping containers that lacked oxygen. Colonel General Jurabeck, the Northern Alliance commander in charge of some 3,000 prisoners admitted that 43 had died in half a dozen of these containers. The actual figure is probably quite a bit higher.
Several of the Pakistanis being held as prisoners were interviewed by the New York Times December 9. One by the name of Omar "said through the bars of his prison wing that all but seven people in his container had died from lack of air. He estimated that more than 100 had died," stated the Times. "Another Pakistani said 13 had died in his container and that the survivors had taken turns to breathe through a hole in the metal wall." The prisoners are jammed into cells with about 40 men to each room.
CIA man threatened to kill POW
The U.S. youth John Walker, who had joined the Taliban movement and survived the massacre of prisoners in the fortress in Mazar-i-Sharif, continues to be vilified in the U.S. media, even though no charges have been filed against him. He is being held in a shipping container--10 feet high, 20 feet wide and 10 feet deep--at the U.S. marine desert base southwest of Kandahar. Washington is calling him a "battlefield detainee" and officials, including FBI agents, are interrogating him.
The New York Post on December 7 ran a front page article titled "Hero vs. Rat," referring to CIA agent John Spann and Walker. Spann was killed by prisoners who rebelled after Spann reportedly shot and killed several of them. Shortly before Spann was killed he attempted to interrogate Walker, as well as a number of other prisoners being held there. Walker refused to respond to any of the questions from Spann and another CIA agent on the scene known only as "Dave." In an exchange recorded on videotape, the CIA agents told Walker that if he didn't talk to them he was "going to die here. Or he's going to f--ing spend the rest of his short f--ing life in prison" with no access to the Red Cross.
Walker's family in California has hired noted criminal lawyer James Brosnahan to defend their son. Neither his parents nor Brosnahan have been allowed to speak to or visit Walker. As a U.S. citizen he cannot be tried by a military tribunal or any other military courts. Among the charges that Walker could face, according to the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, are treason and seditious conspiracy.